Something happened that rocked your world. Was it the loss of a loved one, or the realization that life isn't quite what you wanted or expected?
Here's an outline for my system of Inhabiting REALITY. Each letter reminds us of a healing step we can take.
R - Remember
Tell your story; become intimately familiar with it, even the parts that aren't so pleasant. Consider journaling, blogging, or talking to those special people who will listen. Talk about your loved one, if someone has died.
Create photo albums, rituals of remembrance, memory books, memory quilts. Seek ways of maintaining the connection and the relationship with your loved one.
Tell family and friends that you need to process what happened, for they might not realize it. For example, ask them to bring up your loved one's name, and let people know it's okay if you cry when they do.
Sometimes people think not talking about a stressful situation will spare your feelings. Let them know your feelings are there all the time (see next section) and that sharing what happened actually validates them and helps you accept the change.
E - Explore Emotions
What are you feeling? Research suggests that simply naming emotions calms the fight or flight response. Telling someone "I'm scared" or "I'm so incredibly sad" and having them just stay with that emotion without trying to make it go away helps heal grief and loss.
What effect do others' expectations have on your feelings? How about your own expectations? Feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are, so try not to judge them.
Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and let them wash over you as they slowly become less intense, instead of fighting them.
A - Adapt
After a major life transition, every aspect of life is going to be different. Plan ahead for potentially difficult events (holidays, anniversary dates, and birthdays). Ask yourself: how do I want to observe this day?
Keep expectations realistic and avoid overwhelm. Don't be afraid to adapt cherished traditions and/or create new ones. Decide what's doable for you and stick to it, remembering it's okay to say no sometimes.
Identify a support person to attend any holiday or other social functions with. There are times the old adage "Fake it till you make it" comes in handy, so use it appropriately. And when a certain event feels impossible, try substituting a volunteer activity instead. Helping others can lift you out of yourself like nothing else.
L - Learn
The brain craves information and order, so learn as much as you can about your situation, its effects, and how you're coping. What details do you know about what happened? Who is responsible? How will you go on? Could it have been avoided or prevented? If so, how?
We typically begin to draw conclusions based on limited information. After all, any answer is better than no answer, even if we have to guess. If something seems out of order we tend to mull it over in our minds until it makes sense.
What conclusions have you reached that result from your craving for order? What information do you still need to make sense of your situation? It's typical to alternate between focusing on the details of the problem and pondering how to go on.
Research how other people cope with similar circumstances. Identify an appropriate use of distraction without going into denial. Read books; visit online resources; access support organizations. Learn something new...it jump-starts your thinking and creativity.
I - Iluminate the Importance
Finding meaning in our distress is like turning on a light bulb in a darkened room. Is there meaning in this loss? What lessons can be learned from this experience? What discoveries am I making about myself? What personal strengths can I identify that were not evident before?
What's becoming of the person I used to be? Who am I now? What was important to me before this, compared to what is important now? How has this experience impacted my values and spiritual beliefs? Do I see the world any differently now?
We have the ability to choose meaning and significance that works for us. Consider your own spirituality and beliefs and allow yourself to choose what feels personally healing. What importance, significance, or meaning can you connect to how you do things now?
You may think: "I don't know what this means, but there's no way I'm going through this for nothing. Something big is going to come out of this; maybe something bigger than me."
T - Treasure Togetherness
The human brain craves connection. The way we cushion ourselves against the shock of loss is to circle our wagons and join together with one another. Connecting with others should happen as soon as possible following any unwelcome change. Not only physically - as in spending time together - but also using that time to talk about what this loss is like for each person.
We all need different amounts of solitude and connection to feel okay. Honor the need for solitude that you feel at this time as long as you're not isolating yourself. Isolation can compound the loss, making it difficult to heal.
Keep in mind that isolation isn't only choosing to be alone; it's also not sharing how you really feel with those around you.
Y - You
Take good care of yourself in body, mind, and spirit. Schedule checkups with your doctor and dentist. Eat healthy, drink lots of water, exercise. Rest when you need to and try to keep healthy sleep habits. Watch your alcohol intake; it's a depressant.
Make a list of people, places, things, and activities that feel personally replenishing to you. Allow yourself to bring some of these into your life when you feel depleted (or to avoid depletion). Be kind and gentle with yourself.
Copyright © 2013 │ Ruth E. Field
Essays on Grief Resilience